Debriefing: A remarkable tool that eases your way to practice success

many small light bulbs equal big one

Not being an academic, I have always sourced alternative methods of education. Books, tapes, videos, audio…I researched everything I could. The introduction of the internet has now revolutionised our access to education and learning and ignorance on a particular topic lasts only as long as it takes to type a question into Google.

However, it has been my personal experience that powerful and lasting education is easily achieved in the workplace.

Debriefing. I have grown to be not just a fan of this process, but I see it as a vital path to my success.

If I ever have a situation where I feel as though the result could have been better, I will go to my team members. I will state the situation, what my response was, and ask for their ideas as to better manage this scenario should it occur again.

For example, many receptionists will be familiar with the following scene…

“How was the treatment today Mr Smith?” Receptionist is bubbly and bright.

“It was gentle, as always.” Mr Smith has been a long-standing patient.

“Here is your invoice for today…the two fillings came to $715.00.”

Mr Smith’s face visibly drops. Then a frown crosses his face.

Despite obvious surprise, Mr Smith hands over his credit card.

The receptionist sees Mr Smith’s discomfort, but there are two patients within ear-shot in the waiting room and she feels limited in what she can say.

The payment is processed and, after final pleasantries, Mr Smith leaves.

Being a receptionist, I was always uncomfortable with this result. I knew the patient was troubled, yet did not feel I had the best opportunity to speak with him about it.

So I learned to debrief. And the results are powerful!

I shared the situation with my colleagues, removing all emotion and editorialising (“…and I know that patient is always grumpy anyway…” is not conducive to effective debriefing). I then state what my ideal result would have been. That “the patient has the invoice explained to him, that he then perceives the value and cheerfully pays”.

Through team feedback we all decide that in future, when a patient seems displeased and there are observers in the waiting room, the receptionist will state, “Mr Smith, you seem troubled by the invoice. Were you not expecting that?”

Explain the list of services if required. However if the patient states that it is higher than he expected, then the response shall be, “What I’d like to do Mr Smith is check the invoice with Dr Molar. We certainly wouldn’t want to overcharge you. I will speak with Dr Molar by the end of the day and then I’ll call you by tomorrow morning with the result. Does that suit you?”

The benefits of debriefing are numerous:

  1. Gets teams consistently thinking about better ways of servicing patients, and working together
  2. Allows the team to better support each another
  3. Encourages individuals to put ego to the side, in place of personal growth
  4. The whole team learn and adopt the solution, not just the person involved
  5. CANI – Constant And Never-ending Improvement
  6. The mini-role play of the solution provides the experience for the subconscious mind to draw on when next in the situation, so the new response comes more naturally and automatically

As an experienced member of dental teams, I am aware that it doesn’t take much to lose a patient. We remain unaware of the reasons why we lose most patients because we simply never hear from them again. So if patient unhappiness is evident to us, we should jump on the chance to resolve it immediately.

Our dental teams are made up of brilliant, innovative and creative souls. These attributes will either be stifled or fostered in your workplace.

I encourage all members of the dental teams I work with to adopt debriefing as a key training tool, including dentists and owners.

It is these small daily improvements that are the key to your practice’s extraordinary success.